Dennis Gansel’s Die Welle aka The Wave (2008)

Gansel’s movie Die Welle or The Wave is based on a true event that took place in Cubberley Senior High School in Palo Alto, CA, in March/April 1967. The movie is set in present-day Germany which makes it much more powerful. It’s not a flawless movie but it is highly watchable for many reasons notably a outstandig performance of one of the very best German actors, Jürgen Vogel. I simply love this guy. I have never seen him in anything bad but I am afraid he is not widely known outside of Germany, unlike the internationally acclaimed Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong), Till Schweiger (King Arthur, Inglorious Basterds)  and the latest addition of German actors to the Hollywood pantheon, Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds) who is  going to star as Mr. Rochester in the upcoming Jane Eyre.

Gansel has already done an outstanding movie on the Nazi elite training camps, NaPolA aka Before the Fall, so I was pretty sure this couldn’t be bad.

The Wave was an experiment conducted by a teacher  in the US that went very wrong. He wanted to prove to his pupils, who were saying that something like the Third Reich couldn’t happen anymore nowadays, that they were wrong. As said before, to take the same premise and set it in present-day Germany was a great idea. It’s a creepy movie.

Rainer Wenger (Jürgen Vogel), a much liked  teacher (he is anti-authoritarian, young, cool) must lead a project week on autocracy although he wanted to teach anarchy. He is pretty bored by his assignment but he understands soon that the kids in front of him think that totalitarianism, dictatorship and despotism couldn’t exist anymore, that the 3rd Reich wouldn’t be possible in our time. This gets him thinking and he decides to show them that they are mistaken. It is extremely subtle how he proves the contrary and that is why it is so creepy. Watching this movie you think it would not only work in the movie but could really be achieved in real life. The methods Wenger applies are not much different from those used by sects. He first shows them their weaknesses, then strengthens them, tells them how important it is to stick together, that it is only as a group that they are strong… Soon they follow his every word, wear a uniform, want to greet each other a special way… It is not long before they will ostracize those who do not comply. And then it gets out of hand. The kids forget that this is a school project and that they might be taking part in an experiment. They end up taking  it far too seriously and so does the teacher after a certain point.

I really liked the topic of the movie, the way it was done is entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. And the acting is great. Die Welle encourages you to question assumptions about freedom, individuality, independence, and responsibility. The end is exaggerated, I think, I haven’t read the book or done much research. Die Welle also explores how much power teachers and other authoritative figures have over their charges who admire them and how easily they might be tempted to abuse it.

I would say, this movie is another example of the fact that Germany offers some of the best filmmaking there is.

10 thoughts on “Dennis Gansel’s Die Welle aka The Wave (2008)

  1. Wow, sounds REALLY interesting and definitely spooky. I’ll have to check it out sometime. Also, WHAT? Another Jane Eyre, and with Michael Fassbender as Rochester?! I hadn’t heard about that. Interesting… I saw him in Fish Tank recently and was mildly disturbed by him. Good performance though. I’ll be curious to see what kind of Rochester he makes…

    • I think I bought Fish Tank recently but haven’t watched it yet and was absolutely not aware that Fassbender is in it. I pictured Rochester different. Very dark or rather a bit gloomy.
      I think Vogel deserves more credit. Maybe his English is very bad.

  2. This sounds like an interesting movie, I always try to watch movies based on novels. And the fact that it is about teachers also makes me more interested.

    Watching movies or read books about teacher often give me some idea how to teach and get closer to students

    • I think that it is a movie that would be extremely interesting for teachers. But it is a true story, the book is about the original experiment. And I think there has been a short story as well. Watch it, if you get a chance. It impressed me also because it shows how much power teachers have.

      • I’ve just seen the trailer (I have only got time to read your review before). It was REALLY impressive!! I really want to watch it if I can find it, I hope I can find it.

        • What Region code can you watch. EU or US, 1 or 2. Appareently in the US they cannot order from because they can’t watch the movies. I have a double region player. Just asking as I might do a giveaway one day.
          The movie made me realize that I miss teaching. I used to teach at a private school but it closed down.

  3. I don’t which region we are. Never pay attention because the only DVD from another country that I ever bought is from Japan and I can play it without any trouble here.

    What did you teach? I teach Chemistry.

  4. I’ve never understood why DVDs don’t just play in all players–it’s maddening sometimes as we can’t get all the movies here that you see in Europe!! I’m not sure if this one has been released here or not, but it does sound very good and a little frightening. I recall reading about that California experiment a long time ago. It’s scary to see how easily we will fall into line and believe things and not use reason sometimes. I sometimes wonder what I would do in a situation like that–I hope I would not comply so easily. I’ll have to see if Netflix has this one!

    • I found it scary. I read about another experiment once where people were told to press buttons if someone else gave a wrong answer. They were said that it would hurt the person (it didn’t). First they didn’t want to do it but in the end they got into a “punishing frenzy”.
      I have no idea what i would do. I am pretty rebellious and non-conformist at heart but the spirit of community, even an illusionary one might get many who would never think of it.

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